Why don't I want friends?
December 19, 2010 11:11 PM   Subscribe

It seems I don't have a lot of sustained interest in meeting new people or hanging out with people in general other than people I'm attracted to romantically/want to date.

I find that I'm rarely moved to put the effort into making friends or feeding/growing friendships. I say that I like people/socializing, but most often that is fueled by or at least in conjunction with thoughts of a person I'm attracted to. For example, sometimes if I go out to a club with friends, I think about it in terms of whether I will meet someone I could date. Or I visualize a more social life together with someone I would date.

I would say that I am lonely, but I often think I'm lonely for a specific kind of company - a partner. This seems unhealthy and it does not make for happiness. In addition, I often get mildly obsessed with the people I am interested in romantically--not in terms of smothering them with attention, but thinking very strongly and obsessively about them. (Perhaps obviously, I have not dated much.) I will go to therapy at some point when budget allows, but I would like to hear suggestions and insights about this.
posted by clever anonymous username to Human Relations (11 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I struggle with a version of this sometimes... less now than a few years ago, but it still causes problems once in awhile.

I've often had the option to hang out with an old friend for a quiet night with familiar faces, or to go out with some people I barely know or like to an event that's more likely to have eligible single girls.

During my worst times I'd ALWAYS pick the night out with acquaintances, and spend the entire night disconnected from my group, constantly scanning the crowd for a girl who met some strange non-sensical criteria of what my ideal girlfriend would look like. More often than not, no such girl would appear, and I'd have a lame night. On the rare occasion that such a girl would appear, I'd be super nervous, come on too strong, and blow it.

Eventually I came to realize just how important "social proof" is when out and about. Being seen having fun with friends makes you seem like *gasp* a fun person with friends. If a room of people see you as a fun, friendly person, your chances of positive social interaction with strangers goes up dramatically. It helps if you actually make the effort to find friends whose company you genuinely enjoy, but you can always fake it until you make it, if you have to. Even if you don't meet anyone -- HEY, you just had a FUN night out with your FRIENDS.

Having good friends will help you meet people to date, either directly (meeting THEIR friends, or meeting strangers via wingman action, etc.) or indirectly (someone across the room sees you animated, having a good time, and remembers that favorably when you talk later). It's really win-win.

There's some saying about "how can you expect someone to love you if you don't even love yourself?", and a great way to love yourself is to support and be supported by a network of friends.

Also, obsession is your enemy. I don't subscribe to a lot of the stuff that is taught in the pickup artist community, but I've benefitted greatly from understanding and abiding by the "3 second rule". If you're out and you see someone you think you might want to talk to, do it IMMEDIATELY. Rip the band-aid off. The longer you wait, the more nervous you get, and the more weight you attribute to the outcome of the conversation. While you're obsessed with someone, you may become completely oblivious to other, potentially better options that are right in front of you.

Not sure if any of this advice and anecdata will help, but for what it's worth I started making more of an effort with friends and social situations about a year ago. In that year I've had more positive experiences with the opposite sex than the FIVE years before that. And I still don't even have it all figured out.
posted by adamk at 12:01 AM on December 20, 2010 [8 favorites]

Well, friendships do take up time and do make you do things you might not otherwise have preferred to do, so they can be real work, and they can only pay off so much. And higher stakes relationships, managed well, offer the hope of insanely great rewards. And the dopamine (etc.) charge you get from a new romantic interest is usually pretty intense for anyone, and perhaps especially so when you tend to perceive romance as a high stakes game.

So your behavior seems grounded in, you know, the way things generally are. But what your feelings somehow don't incorporate are expectations of more consistent and reliable rewards from friendships, which cost so much less time than romance and provide sort of an emotional safety net when your more serious relationship isn't going well. I don't think that just re-analyzing friendships as a risk mitigation strategy will change your feelings, but it's a practical reason to ignore your sentiments and build some low stakes relationships anyway.

Do you have a really absorbing hobby to turn to in private moments, when you're questioning minor feelings about yourself or when you're obsessing a little over someone? Do you also have a social hobby like gaming or sports that might cause you to cultivate, if not friends, at least regular fellow participants?

I mean, go to a therapist if you think you need one, but I'm not really hearing anything in this question that sounds far out of the ordinary--other than the fact you're asking and need more than others some feedback on what's normal.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 12:30 AM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I sort of agree with Monsieur Caution. I think that many (younger, especially) people often have a lot of friends that are really more a wrapper for — going out to seek a romantic partner. It's not coincidental that a lot of people lose touch with many of their friends after settling down into a relationship, if activities with those friends were mostly going out to clubs and parties. You just seem more self-aware about what you are seeking.

Which is not to say that you shouldn't be open to developing friendships, but there are two sorts of friendship (more than two, but for our purposes … ): A) friendships that are pleasant and work out well for your mutual situations at the time (often, these are school friends, work friends, neighbor friends), and B) friendships that resonate on a much deeper level. The A friendships will often atrophy when the situation changes; B friends are more like family and are focused on the person instead of the activities you enjoy with them. (Playing a board game with a B friend can be more fun than Major Fun-type Activity with an A friend.)

Cherished "B" friends are much rarer, so don't beat yourself up too much for recognizing that your more situational friends are more situational.
posted by taz at 3:01 AM on December 20, 2010 [5 favorites]

I think you just need to date more. With very little dating (or relationship, I assume) experience, of course you're craving a romantic partner.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:08 AM on December 20, 2010

I disagree with J. Wilson. I think you could date more, but I think that dating more will only make you (a) sick of dating, or (b) want it even more than you do now. Or (c) no change. But either way, it's not really a solution to your current problem.
posted by rebent at 5:17 AM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

This sounds like standard-issue loneliness to me. I've been married for almost 10 years, but I have no trouble remembering a hunger for intimacy and touch that casual relationships could never satisfy. It's a rough set of feelings to live with day to day, but part of the problem is that no real relationship can fill such a large hole, and anyone healthy enough to be a good partner can smell your unmeetable needs from a distance. This is the sort of emotional terrain on which desperate, unhealthy relationships are founded, because the only other people who will come within range are those with unmeetable needs of their own.

The good news is that if you can improve your own levels of happiness independent of any partnership, by investing yourself in activities and values and friendships that feel right even if they don't meet every emotional craving you might have, the relationship end of things will almost take care of itself.
posted by jon1270 at 6:13 AM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Keep in mind that many people I know are dating people that they met through their friends. I like that- after all, women are most likely to be killed by romantic partners, and therefore it is a great idea to go out with someone who was vetted to a degree by people I trust. I don't think you need to make friends solely to get dates, but the potential is out there for it being a side benefit. Not to mention that sometimes friends date their friends.
posted by jenlovesponies at 6:21 AM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

The lack of desire for regular friendships is a bit of a red flag for me. I might be completely wrong, but it seems like you are someone who probably hasn't had close relationships in general. You are now fantasizing about what one would be like with a romantic interest without a reference as to what being close to someone is actually like (especially not romantically).
Romantic relationships are actually more complex and difficult than regular close friendships, and not likely to assuage your loneliness, more likely just to dull it with drama.
I've known people who didn't form close relationships and craved romantic intimacy that usually had a lot of drama in their relationships. The one useful insight I can give you about them was that they never understood trust. On some basic level they didn't understand that basic glue that binds people together... the ability to trust other people and what it means to have them trust you. This translated into shallow friendships, a craving for intimacy (exacerbated despite the lack of trust) that they didn't know how to really have or feel.
I don't know how you work on that. Therapy with someone good and insightful might work, but it might not (if you don't trust the therapist). I think it's up to you to figure out how much this is true for you and what you can do about it. .. maybe hypnosis is a start.
posted by blueyellow at 7:00 AM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

If your major focus right now if finding a romantic partner, nothing wrong with that, I second the suggestion that making more social friends will likely make it easier to meet romantic partners. I know very few people who have managed to start successful relationships by randomly hitting on strangers.

You could also kill two birds with one stone by joining some sort of social activity which is likely to include interesting new friends and possible romantic partners. I have suggested yoga classes, swing dancing, contra dancing, and knitting/crafting type activities for my straight male friends because often there are a lot more girls than guys at these activities. Rock climbing, kick ball teams, political activism groups also seem to be pretty good places for making friends and meeting sociable people.

Also, getting involved in an activity you find enjoyable may take the edge off of some of your loneliness.
posted by forkisbetter at 9:06 AM on December 20, 2010

You know how you like flirting with people you're interested in? Because they're so fascinating and clever and do things that you think are terrific? And sure, also you want to maybe sleep with them someday?

It turns out that you can think people are fascinating and interesting and not want to sleep with them. Once I became accustomed to the concept of a friend crush (perhaps I was aided in this by being female, and things like girl's night out and stuff is socially encouraged), it was a lot easier for me to admit that hey! This person's totally great! And I'm attracted to them in a friend crush way, and so I want to hang out with them and maybe some other people they are also friends with!

Plus, friends usually take up less emotional energy than romantic partners do, and you can use them to fill the parts of your social life that your romantic partner wouldn't neccessarily fill. If you're single right now, maybe you don't know what those parts are, but it's good to have friends anyway.

Basically, I would take Pater Aletheias' comment from a previous marriage thread to heart, and start preparing the groundwork now, while you're single, instead of later, when you have a partner and it's much harder to find the time to hang out with friends.

"Oh, one more thing. A good friend of mine always says that you should expect your spouse to meet 40% of your emotional needs. They can't be your best friend, your recreational partner, your co-worker, your support group, your parent, your sibling, your intellectual sparring partner, your book club pal, your shopping buddy and your lover. They can be some of those things, to varying degrees, but healthy people have a network of friendships and relationships that go beyond just their marriage. If you expect your spouse to become the only person you need in your whole life, you're setting him up for failure. I think 40% sounds about right. They contribute more to your well-being than any other single person, but even a spouse can't meet the majority of your relationship needs unassisted."
posted by redsparkler at 11:02 AM on December 20, 2010 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: perhaps I was aided in this by being female, and things like girl's night out and stuff is socially encouraged

I think this is especially complicated for me because I'm a lesbian. When I was a teenager (where I was only allowed to socialize with other girls, never boys) I think I didn't do the close friendship thing because there was an undercurrent of sexual attraction that I knew was taboo...I couldn't (and maybe still can't) separate friend crush from crush-crush.
posted by clever anonymous username at 11:24 AM on December 20, 2010

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